Marco Polo set out with his father and uncle, Niccolo and Maffeo Polo, for Asia, travelling for four years before they finally reached China and met with Kublai Khan, who was staying at his summer palace known as Xanadu. Marco Polo later describes his voyage in his book "The Travels of Marco Polo", providing the western world with its first clear picture of the East's geography and ethnic customs. His story has inspired many other adventurers to explore the world, like Christopher Columbus, who brought Polo's book with him as he set off across the Atlantic.
The Little Ice Age is best known for its effects in Europe and the North Atlantic region. Alpine glaciers advanced far below their previous limits, obliterating farms, churches, and villages in Switzerland, France, and elsewhere. Frequent cold winters and cool, wet summers led to crop failures and famines over much of northern and central Europe.
Distressed by factionalism in Rome and pressed to come to France by Philip IV, Pope Clement V moved the papal capital to Avignon, which at that time belonged to vassals of the pope. In 1348 it became direct papal property. The Avignon papacy was overwhelmingly French in complexion (all seven of the popes during the period were French, as were 111 of the 134 cardinals created). The antagonism, especially within England and Germany, to the residency at Avignon damaged the prestige of the papacy and eventually led to the Great Schism, losing the credibility of the Roman Catholic Church.
The first of a series of large-scale crises that struck Europe early in the fourteenth century, most of Europe (extending east to Russia and south to Italy) was affected.The famine caused millions of deaths over an extended number of years and marked a clear end to the period of growth and prosperity from the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries. The Great Famine started with bad weather in spring 1315. Crop failures lasted through 1316 until the summer harvest in 1317, and Europe did not fully recover until 1322. The period was marked by extreme levels of crime, disease, mass death and even cannibalism and infanticide. The crisis had consequences for the Church, state, European society, and for future calamities to follow in the fourteenth century.
France and England were in this long conflict against each other due to two factors: first, the status of the duchy of Guyenne (or Aquitaine), which England wanted independent possession of; and second, the kings of England claimed the crown of France. At first, the English army proved repeatedly victorious over much larger French forces. However, thanks to Joan of Arc, France was able to recapture their territory and eventually overpower the English army. The end of the conflict was never marked by a peace treaty but died out because the English recognized that the French troops were too strong to be directly confronted.
The Black Death arrived in Europe by sea in October 1347 when 12 Genoese trading ships docked at the Sicilian port of Messina after a long journey through the Black Sea. The people who gathered on the docks to greet the ships were met with a horrifying surprise: Most of the sailors aboard the ships were dead, and those who were still alive were gravely ill. They were overcome with fever, unable to keep food down and delirious from pain. Strangest of all, they were covered in mysterious black boils that oozed blood and pus and gave their illness its name: the “Black Death.” The Sicilian authorities hastily ordered the fleet of “death ships” out of the harbor, but it was too late: Over the next five years, the mysterious Black Death would kill more than 20 million people in Europe–almost one-third of the continent’s population.
The insurrection of peasants against the nobility in northeastern France occurred when an Anglo-French truce resulted in the pillage of the countryside by mercenaries from the English forces, sometimes abetted by the nobles. The peasants were further enraged by the nobles’ demands for heavier payments of dues and by the order of the future Charles V that the peasants refortify the castles of their aristocratic oppressors. The peasants destroyed numerous castles and slaughtered their inhabitants, joining forces with Parisian rebels. They were defeated on June 9, and a massacre of the insurgents followed.
Shortly after the return of the papal residence to Rome following almost 70 years in Avignon, the archbishop of Bari was elected pope as Urban VI, who proved to be so hostile to the cardinals that they elected one of themselves, Robert of Geneva, as Pope Clement VII, claiming the election of Urban VI had been invalid because it was made under fear. Clement VII then took up residence at Avignon. The rival popes denouncing each other produced great confusion and resulted in a tremendous loss of credibility. Eventually cardinals arranged a council in Pisa, which met in 1409 and elected a third pope, Alexander V, who was succeeded shortly thereafter by Baldassare Cossa, who took the name John XXIII.That series of events opened the way to the election of Martin V in November 1417, whereby the schism was ended.
The first great popular rebellion in English history, its immediate causes were the imposition of the unpopular poll tax and the Statute of Labourers, which attempted to fix maximum wages during the labour shortage following the Black Death. The king appealed to the rebels as their sovereign and, after promising reforms, persuaded them to disperse. The rebellion lasted less than a month and failed completely as a social revolution. King Richard’s promises were forgotten, and manorial discontent continued to find expression in local riots. The rebellion succeeded, however, as a protest against the taxation of poorer classes insofar as it prevented further levying of the poll tax.
Invented in the Holy Roman Empire by the German Johannes Gutenberg, the printing press introduced the era of mass communication. Revolutionary ideas transcended borders, capturing the masses in the Reformation and threatening the power of political and religious authorities. The sharp increase in literacy broke the monopoly of the literate elite on education and learning and bolstered the emerging middle class. The increasing cultural self-awareness led to the rise of proto-nationalism, and accelerated the development of vernacular languages, to the detriment of Latin's status as lingua franca.
Ferdinand of Aragon marries Isabella of Castile in Valladolid, thus beginning a cooperative reign that would unite all the dominions of Spain and elevate the nation to a dominant world power. Ferdinand and Isabella incorporated a number of independent Spanish dominions into their kingdom and in 1478 introduced the Spanish Inquisition, a powerful and brutal force of homogenization in Spanish society.
This was the judicial institution established to combat heresy in Spain, serving to consolidate power in the monarchy of the newly unified Spanish kingdom, but it achieved that end through infamously brutal methods. The desire for religious unity became more and more pronounced, and Spain’s Jewish population, which was among the largest in Europe, soon became a target. Ferdinand and Isabella sought to use the Inquisition to support their absolute and centralizing regime and most especially to increase the royal power in Aragon. The efforts of the pope to limit the Inquisition were without avail.
Italian explorer Christopher Columbus became obsessed with the possibility of pioneering a western sea route to Cathay (China), India, and the fabled gold and spice islands of Asia. Columbus set sail from Palos, Spain, and on October 12, landed on what they thought was India but was actually the Bahamas, and claimed it for Spain. They returned to Spain with gold, spices, and “Indian” captives in March 1493. He had discovered for Europe the New World, whose riches over the next century would help make Spain the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth.
Italian Wars, (1494–1559) series of violent wars for control of Italy. Fought largely by France and Spain but involving much of Europe, they resulted in the Spanish Habsburgs dominating Italy and shifted power from Italy to northwestern Europe. The wars began with the invasion of Italy by the French king Charles VIII in 1494. He took Naples, but an alliance between Maximilian I, Spain, and the pope drove him out of Italy. In 1499 Louis XII invaded Italy and took Milan, Genoa, and Naples, but he was driven out of Naples in 1503 by Spain under Ferdinand V. Pope Julius II organized the League of Cambrai (1508) to attack Venice, then organized the Holy League (1511) to drive Louis out of Milan. In 1515 Francis I was victorious at the Battle of Marignano, and in 1516 a peace was concluded by which France held onto Milan and Spain kept Naples. Fighting began in 1521 between Emperor Charles V and Francis I. Francis was captured and forced to sign the Treaty of Madrid (1526), by which he renounced all claims in Italy, but, once freed, he repudiated the treaty and formed a new alliance with Henry VIII of England, Pope Clement VII, Venice, and Florence. Charles sacked Rome in 1527 and forced the pope to come to terms, and Francis gave up all claims to Italy in the Treaty of Cambrai (1529). By the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis (1559), the wars finally ended.
Committed to the idea that salvation could be reached through faith and by divine grace only, Luther vigorously objected to the corrupt practice of selling indulgences. Acting on this belief, he wrote the “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” also known as “The 95 Theses,” a list of questions and propositions for debate, which would later become the foundation of the Protestant Reformation. The 95 Theses were quickly distributed throughout Germany and then made their way to Rome.
Because of the confused political and religious situation of the time, Luther was called before the political authorities rather than before the pope or a council of the Roman Catholic Church because of accusations of heresy. Pope Leo X condemned 41 of Luther’s Ninety-five Theses. In response, Luther publicly burned the papal bull and refused to renounce his propositions. Luther went before the Diet and refused to repudiate his works unless convinced of error by Scripture or by reason. He was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church.
Having learned of political strife in the Aztec empire, Cortés led his force into the Mexican interior. On the way to Tenochtitlán, he clashed with local Indians, but many of these people, including the nation of Tlaxcala, became his allies after learning of his plan to conquer their hated Aztec rulers. In May 1521, Cortés returned to Tenochtitlán, and after a three-month siege the city fell. This victory marked the fall of the Aztec empire. Cuauhtámoc, Cuitláhuac’s successor as emperor, was taken prisoner and later executed, and Cortés became the ruler of a vast Mexican empire.
Charles VIII of France's initial success in the italian Wars aroused opposition both in Italy and from two powerful rulers who had their own ambitions to pursue: Maximilian I, the Holy Roman emperor, who ruled Austria and the other Habsburg territories, and Ferdinand of Aragón. Ultimately, Maximilian's grandson, Emperor Charles V was to succeed to the Habsburg, Burgundian, Aragonese, and Castilian inheritances, creating a formidable rival to the Valois dynasty of France and ensuring that the wars are known as the Habsburg-Valois wars.The wars helped ensure that Europe would have a "multipolar" character, with no one power dominant. The Habsburgs won, but France was not crushed.
In order to expand the Ottoman Empire into the heart of Europe, Süleyman would have to conquer the kingdom of Hungary. The Hungarians knew that an attack was coming but could not win any support from other Christian powers. The defeat at Mohacs was a disaster that ended the existence of Hungary as an independent united kingdom . A prolonged civil war (1526-38) ultimately resulted in the incorporation of the central and southern two-thirds of Hungary into the Ottoman Empire (1547) and in the establishment of Transylvania and the eastern Hungarian provinces as an autonomous principality within the Ottoman Empire.
Clement VII had refused to sanction an annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, leading the king to remove the Pope’s authority within his kingdom. Henry used Parliament to give an air of legitimacy but Henry now had the power of a king and the power of a Pope. Henry then established the Anglican Church, embracing the Protestant ideals, and the Archbishop of Canterbury took over the powers of the Pope. Cranmer concluded that the Pope’s dispensation for Henry to marry Catherine of Aragon had been invalid.
Atahuallpa was consolidating his rule when Pizarro and his 180 soldiers appeared. Pizarro invited Atahuallpa to attend a feast in his honor, and the emperor accepted. Having just won one of the biggest battles in Inca history, and with an army of 30,000 men at his disposal, Atahuallpa thought he had nothing to fear from the bearded white stranger and his men. Pizarro, however, planned an ambush, setting up his artillery at the square of Cajamarca. With Spanish reinforcements that had arrived at Cajamarca earlier that year, Pizarro then marched on Cuzco, and the Inca capital fell without a struggle.
Ivan the Terrible, or Ivan IV, was the first tsar of all Russia. During his reign (1533-1584), Ivan acquired vast amounts of land through ruthless means, creating a centrally controlled government.
The grandson of Ivan the Great, Ivan the Terrible, or Ivan IV, acquired vast amounts of land during his long reign (1533-1584), an era marked by the conquest of the khanates of Kazan, Astrakhan and Siberia. Ivan the Terrible created a centrally controlled Russian state, imposed by military dominance. Many believe him to have been mentally ill. One of his violent outbursts was perhaps the reason for his son's death.
The first tsar of all Russia, Ivan the Terrible, or Ivan IV, had a complex personality. Intelligent yet prone to outbreaks of uncontrollable rage, Ivan's tragic background contributed to his infamous behavior. Not a lot of detail is known about his early life, and historians debate his accomplishments as a leader. However, it is generally agreed that his reign established the current Russian territory and centralized government for centuries to come.
The grandson of Ivan the Great, Ivan the Terrible was born Ivan Chetvyorty Vasilyevich on August 25, 1530, in the Grand Duchy of Muscovy, Russia, to members of the Rurik dynasty. His father, Basil III, died when he was 3 years old. His mother, Elena Glinskaya, ruled as regent until her death in 1538, when Ivan was 8. During this time, the realm rapidly degenerated into chaos as rival boyar (noble) families disputed the legitimacy of her rule.
The court intrigue and constant danger that Ivan was exposed to while growing up molded much of his ruthless and suspicious nature. Evidence indicates that Ivan was a sensitive, intelligent boy, neglected and occasionally scorned by members of the nobility who looked after him after his parents' death. The environment nurtured his hatred for the boyar class, whom he suspected of being involved in his mother's death. He reportedly tortured small animals as a boy, yet still managed to develop a taste for literature and music.
Tsar of Muscovy
In 1547, Ivan IV was crowned tsar of Muscovy. That same year, he married Anastasia Romanovna. In 1549, Ivan appointed a council of advisers, a consensus-building assembly who helped institute his reforms. During what is considered the constructive period of his reign, he introduced self-government in rural regions, reformed tax collection, and instituted statutory law and church reform. In 1556, he instituted regulations on the obligations of the boyar class in service of the crown.
In foreign policy, Ivan IV had two main goals: to resist the Mongol Golden Horde and to gain access to the Baltic Sea. Ultimately, he aimed to conquer all remaining independent regions and create a larger, more centralized Russia.
In 1552 and 1556, Ivan's armies crushed the Tartar khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan, respectively. This extended Muscovy control to the Urals in the east and the Caspian Sea in the south, creating a buffer zone against the Mongols. (Ivan commissioned St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow's Red Square, built between 1555 and 1561, to commemorate the conquest of the Tatar city of Kazan.) Ivan was not as successful, however, at annexing Lithuania and gaining access to the Baltic: One of his advisers defected to Lithuania and led its army to defeat Ivan IV's offensive.
While his initial efforts were successful, Ivan the Terrible's methods disrupted the economy and culture. He seized private lands and redistributed them among his supported, and created a police force dressed all in black, astride black horses, that existed more to crush dissent than to keep the peace. Thusly, Ivan was not a popular leader, and his unpopularity would continue to grow over the next several years.
Reign of Terror
Upon the death of his first wife in 1560, Ivan IV went into a deep depression and his behavior became more erratic. His suspicion that she had been murdered by the boyars only deepened his paranoia. He left Moscow suddenly and threatened to abdicate the throne. Leaderless, the Muscovites pleaded for his return. He agreed, but on the condition that he be granted absolute power of the region surrounding Moscow, known as the oprichnina. He also demanded the authority to punish traitors and law breakers with execution and confiscation of property.
Over the next 24 years, Ivan IV conducted a reign of terror, displacing and destroying the major boyar families in the region, and earning the moniker by which he's now best known. (He's also known by the nickname "Grozny," which roughly translates as "formidable or sparking terror or fear.") It was during this period that Ivan beat his pregnant daughter-in-law, causing a miscarriage, killed his son in a subsequent fit of rage, and blinded the architect of St. Basil's Cathedral. It was also during this time that he created the Oprichniki, the first official secret Russian police force.
Death and Aftermath
In 1584, with his health failing, Ivan the Terrible became obsessed with death, calling upon witches and soothsayers to sustain him, but to no avail. The end came on March 18, 1584, when Ivan died of an apparent stroke. He had willed the kingdom to his unfit son, Feodor, whose rule spiraled Russia into the catastrophic Time of Troubles, leading to the establishment of the Romanov Dynasty.
When Ivan the Terrible died, he left the country in disarrary, with deep political and social scars. Russia would not merge from the chaos until the reign of Peter the Great more than a century later.
Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein's two-part epic about the infamous leader, Ivan Groznyi (1945, 1958), is considered one of the finest films of the Soviet era.
For the long centuries of the Middle Ages (500-1350 AD) the canon of scientific knowledge had experienced little change, and the Catholic Church had preserved acceptance of a system of beliefs based on the teachings of the ancient Greeks and Romans which it had incorporated into religious doctrine. During this period there was little scientific inquiry and experimentation. Rather, students of the sciences simply read the works of the alleged authorities and accepted their word as truth. However, during the Renaissance this doctrinal passivity began to change. The quest to understand the natural world led to the revival of botany and anatomy by thinkers such as Andreas Vesalius during the later sixteenth century.
These scientific observers were surprised to find that their conclusions did not always match up with the accepted truths, and this finding inspired others to delve further into the study of the world around them. Scientific study quickly extended from the earth to the heavens, and Nicolas Copernicus, upon examining the records of the motions of heavenly bodies, soon discarded the old geocentric theory that placed the Earth at the center of the solar system and replaced it with a heliocentric theory in which the Earth was simply one of a number of planets orbiting the sun. Though this scheme seemed to comply better with the astronomical records of the time, Copernicus had little direct evidence to support his claims. Not ready to abandon traditional beliefs, the forces of tradition, in the form of the Church and the mass of Europeans, kept the heliocentric theory from achieving full acceptance. The theory awaited the advancement of mathematics and physics to support its claims.
The wait was not very long. During the early seventeenth century, mathematics experienced a great deal of progress in the form of the development of algebra, trigonometry, the advance of geometry, and the linkage of form and motion with quantifiable numeric values undertaken by Rene Descartes. Armed with these tools, the science of physics began to advance rapidly. During the late sixteenth century Galileo Galilei demonstrated that gravity accelerated all objects toward the Earth at the same rate, and further explored the laws of motion. Other physicists explored the nature of matter, with the greatest advances coming in the understanding of the properties of gases, leading to the invention of the barometer, thermometer, and air pump. Physicists even strove (largely unsuccessfully) to discover the structure of matter on the atomic scale.
One of the first applications of the knowledge gained from the advance of physics was in the realm of biology. The physiology of the human body could now be understood in terms of its mechanical properties, and during the seventeenth century many of the mysteries of the human body disappeared. However, the most notable application of the laws of physics was in the field of astronomy. Johannes Kepler proved the orbits of the planets were elliptical, but was unable to come up with an effective model of the solar system. That was left to Galileo, who in 1630 published his Dialogue on the Two Chief Systems of the World, in which he supported the Copernican, or heliocentric theory of the universe, and denounced the Aristotelian system, which maintained the geocentric theory. Galileo supported his claims with elaborate evidence derived from the study of physics.
Sir Isaac Newton's work was the capstone of this evolving chain of science. He integrated Kepler's laws of planetary motion and Galileo's forays into the laws of gravity into a comprehensive understanding of the organization of the universe according to the law of universal gravitation. Newton's Principia, in which he lays out this comprehensive system of organization and develops the mathematical field of calculus, is seen as the key which unlocked the mysteries of the universe, the climax of the strivings of all of the Scientists of the Scientific Revolution.
The 19th ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church was held in three parts from 1545 to 1563. Prompted by the Reformation, the Council of Trent was highly important for its sweeping decrees on self-reform and for its dogmatic definitions that clarified virtually every doctrine contested by the Protestants. Despite internal strife and two lengthy interruptions, the council played a vital role in revitalizing the Roman Catholic Church in many parts of Europe.
The first permanent legal basis for the coexistence of Lutheranism and Catholicism in Germany, the Peace allowed the state princes to select either Lutheranism or Catholicism as the religion of their domain and permitted the free emigration of residents who dissented. This officially ended conflict between the two groups. The desire for a lasting settlement was so strong that the compromise, which satisfied no one completely and had many loopholes, was accepted. In spite of its shortcomings, the Peace of Augsburg saved the empire from serious internal conflicts for more than 50 years.
The long-ruling queen of England, governing with relative stability and prosperity for 44 years after claiming the throne at age 25, the Elizabethan era is named for her. During her first session of Parliament in 1559, she called for the passage of the Act of Supremacy, which re-established the Church of England, and the Act of Uniformity, which created a common prayer book. Elizabeth took a moderate approach to the divisive religious conflict in her country. She ended the war with France and also defeated the Spanish Armada. She had to fend off internal efforts to remove her from the throne, imprisoning and executing Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. The arts flourished during Elizabeth's time with the creation of works by such greats as William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe. Troubled times marked the final years of Elizabeth's reign. The country suffered from failed crops, unemployment and inflation. While the end of her reign had been difficult, Elizabeth has largely been remembered as being a queen who supported her people. Her lengthy time on the throne provided her subjects with stability and consistency, and her sharp wits and clever mind helped navigate the nation through religious and political challenges. Sometimes referred to as the Golden Age, the arts had a chance to blossom with Elizabeth's support.
The massacre of French Huguenots was plotted by Catherine de Médicis and carried out by Roman Catholic nobles and other citizens. Catherine’s daughter, Marguerite de Valois, married the Huguenot Henry of Navarre (the future Henry IV of France), and a large part of the Huguenot nobility came to Paris for the wedding. Instead of crippling the Huguenot party as Catherine had hoped it would do, the massacre revived hatred between and helped provoke a renewal of hostilities. leading Huguenots to abandon John Calvin’s principle of obedience to the royal authority and adopt the view that rebellion and tyrannicide were justifiable under certain circumstances.
In the late 1580s, English raids against Spanish commerce and Queen Elizabeth I’s support of the Dutch rebels in the Spanish Netherlands led King Philip II of Spain to plan the conquest of England. Pope Sixtus V gave his blessing, hoping to bring the Protestant isle back into the fold of Rome. In a decisive battle, the superior English guns won the day, and the devastated Armada was forced to retreat north to Scotland, battered by storms and suffering from a dire lack of supplies. Queen Elizabeth’s decisive defeat of the Invincible Armada made England a world-class power and introduced effective long-range weapons into naval warfare for the first time.
Henry IV was born on December 13, 1553, in Pau, France. Raised a Protestant, he became heir to the French throne through his marriage to Margaret of Valois, but was challenged during a time of religious strife. Despite converting to Catholicism after becoming king of France in 1589, Henry IV issued the Edict of Nantes to foster religious tolerance. He was killed on May 14, 1610, in Paris, France.
Signed by King Henry IV of France, the edict granted the Huguenots substantial rights in the nation, which was still considered essentially Catholic at the time. Henry aimed primarily to promote civil unity, opening a path for secularism and tolerance for Huguenots and offering many specific concessions such as amnesty and the reinstatement of their civil rights, including the right to work in any field or for the state and to bring grievances directly to the king. This marked the end of the religious wars that had afflicted France during the second half of the 16th century.
Also called the Great Rebellion, fighting took place between supporters of the monarchy of Charles I (and his son and successor, Charles II) and opposing groups in each of Charles’s kingdoms, including Parliamentarians in England, Covenanters in Scotland, and Confederates in Ireland. Charles I raised an army against the wishes of Parliament, ostensibly to deal with a rebellion in Ireland. The wars finally ended in 1651 with the flight of Charles II to France and, with him, the hopes of the British monarchy.
Known as the Sun King, he lasted for 72 years, longer than that of any other known European sovereign. In that time, he transformed the monarchy and ruled it with an absolutist regime with the belief of having "divine right", ushered in a golden age of art and literature, presided over a dazzling royal court at Versailles, annexed key territories and established his country as the dominant European power. During the final decades of Louis XIV’s rule, France was weakened by several lengthy wars that drained its resources and the mass exodus of its Protestant population following the king’s revocation of the Edict of Nantes.
The outspoken Puritan helped organize armed forces after the outbreak of civil war in 1642, serving as deputy commander of the “New Model Army” that decimated the main Royalist force at the 1645 Battle of Naseby. After the death of Charles I, Cromwell served in the Rump Parliament and set to reform the legal system in part through the establishment of the Protectorate, eventually abolishing Parliament. He commanded campaigns in Ireland and Scotland in the early 1650s, and served as “lord protector” of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland from 1653 until his death.
After his father’s death, Charles was proclaimed king of England by the Scots and by supporters in parts of Ireland and England, and he traveled to Scotland to raise an army. In 1651, Charles invaded England but was defeated by Cromwell at the Battle of Worcester. Charles escaped to France and later lived in exile in Germany and then in the Spanish Netherlands. After Cromwell’s death in 1658, the English republican experiment faltered. Cromwell’s son Richard proved an ineffectual leader, and the public resented the strict Puritanism of England’s military rulers. In 1660, General George Monck met with Charles and arranged to restore him in exchange for a promise of amnesty and religious toleration for his former enemies. On May 25, 1660, Charles landed at Dover and four days later entered London in triumph. It was his 30th birthday, and London rejoiced at his arrival.
Best known for his extensive reforms in an attempt to establish Russia as a great nation, he created a strong navy, reorganized his army according to Western standards, secularized schools, administered greater control over the reactionary Orthodox Church, and introduced new administrative and territorial divisions of the country. Peter focused on the development of science and recruited several experts to educate his people about technological advancements. He concentrated on developing commerce and industry and created a gentrified bourgeoisie population. Mirroring Western culture, he modernized the Russian alphabet, introduced the Julian calendar, and established the first Russian newspaper. Although he proved to be an effective leader, Peter was also known to be cruel and tyrannical. The high taxes that often accompanied his various reforms led to revolts among citizens, which were immediately suppressed by the imposing ruler.
European politics, philosophy, science and communications were radically reoriented during the course of the “long 18th century” as part of a movement referred to by its participants as the Age of Reason, or simply the Enlightenment. Enlightenment thinkers in Britain, in France and throughout Europe questioned traditional authority and embraced the notion that humanity could be improved through rational change. The Enlightenment produced numerous books, essays, inventions, scientific discoveries, laws, wars and revolutions. The American and French Revolutions were directly inspired by Enlightenment ideals and respectively marked the peak of its influence and the beginning of its decline. The Enlightenment ultimately gave way to 19th-century Romanticism.
The Edict of Fontainebleau was an edict issued by Louis XIV of France, also known as the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. The Edict of Nantes (1598) had granted the Huguenots the right to practice their religion without persecution from the state. Though Protestants had lost their independence in places of refuge under Richelieu, they continued to live in comparative security and political contentment. From the outset, religious toleration in France had been a royal, rather than a popular policy. The lack of universal adherence to his religion did not sit well with Louis XIV's vision of perfected autocracy: "Bending all else to his will, Louis XIV resented the presence of heretics among his subjects.
Glorious Revolution, also called Revolution of 1688 or Bloodless Revolution , in English history, the events of 1688–89 that resulted in the deposition of James II and the accession of his daughter Mary II and her husband, William III, prince of Orange and stadholder of the Netherlands. The settlement marked a considerable triumph for Whig views. If no Roman Catholic could be king, then no kingship could be unconditional. The adoption of the exclusionist solution lent support to John Locke’s contention that government was in the nature of a social contract between the king and his people represented in Parliament. The revolution permanently established Parliament as the ruling power of England.
The conflict arose following the death of the childless Charles II, the last of the Spanish Habsburgs. Charles II allowed himself to be convinced that only the House of Bourbon had the power to keep the Spanish possessions intact, and in the autumn of 1700 he made a will bequeathing them to Philip, grandson of Louis XIV of France. Louis XIV proclaimed his grandson king of Spain, as Philip V (the first Bourbon king of Spain), and then invaded the Spanish Netherlands. An anti-French alliance was formed by England, the Dutch Republic, and the emperor Leopold. They were later joined by Prussia, Hanover, other German states, and Portugal. The electors of Bavaria and Cologne and the dukes of Mantua and Savoy allied themselves with France, although Savoy switched sides in 1703. With the collapse of the alliance, peace negotiations began in 1712. The first group of treaties was signed at Utrecht in April 1713. They divided Charles II's inheritance among the powers. Louis XIV’s grandson remained king of Spain, but the treaties of Utrecht marked the rise of the power of Britain and the British colonial empire at the expense of both France and Spain.
The Seven Years’ War essentially comprised two struggles. One centered on the maritime and colonial conflict between Britain and its Bourbon enemies, France and Spain; the second, on the conflict between Frederick II (the Great) of Prussia and his opponents: Austria, France, Russia, and Sweden. Two other less prominent struggles were also worthy of note. As an ally of Frederick, George II of Britain, as elector of Hanover, resisted French attacks in Germany, initially only with Hanoverian and Hessian troops but from 1758 with the assistance of British forces also. In 1762, Spain, with French support, attacked Britain’s ally Portugal, but, after initial checks, the Portuguese, thanks to British assistance, managed to resist successfully.
Treaty of Paris: Two crucial provisions of the treaty were British recognition of U.S. independence and the delineation of boundaries that would allow for American western expansion. The treaty is named for the city in which it was negotiated and signed.
Catherine the Great is the country's longest-ruling female leader, coming to power following a coup d'état when her husband, Peter III, was assassinated. Under her reign, Russia was revitalised; it grew larger and stronger, and was recognised as one of the great powers of Europe. Catherine reformed the administration of Russian guberniyas, and many new cities and towns were founded on her orders. An admirer of Peter the Great, Catherine continued to modernise Russia along Western European lines. The Catherinian Era is often considered the Golden Age of the Russian Empire and the Russian nobility. She enthusiastically supported the ideals of The Enlightenment, and presided over the age of the Russian Enlightenment, a period when the Smolny Institute, the first state-financed higher education institution for women in Europe, was established.
The conflict arose from growing tensions between residents of Great Britain’s 13 North American colonies and the colonial government, which represented the British crown. Skirmishes between British troops and colonial militiamen in Lexington and Concord in April 1775 kicked off the armed conflict, and by the following summer, the rebels were waging a full-scale war for their independence. France entered the American Revolution on the side of the colonists in 1778, turning what had essentially been a civil war into an international conflict. After French assistance helped the Continental Army force the British surrender at Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781, the Americans had effectively won their independence, though fighting would not formally end until 1783.
The Watt steam engine (alternatively known as the Boulton and Watt steam engine) was the first type of steam engine to make use of a separate condenser. It was a vacuum or "atmospheric" engine using steam at a pressure just above atmospheric to create a partial vacuum beneath the piston. The difference between atmospheric pressure above the piston and the partial vacuum below drove the piston down the cylinder. James Watt avoided the use of high pressure steam because of safety concerns. Watt's design became synonymous with steam engines, due in no small part to his business partner, Matthew Boulton. The Watt steam engine, developed sporadically from 1763 to 1775, was an improvement on the design of the 1712 Newcomen steam engine and was a key point in the Industrial Revolution. Watt's two most important improvements were the separate condenser and rotary motion
A pamphlet advocating independence from Great Britain to people in the Thirteen Colonies, Paine marshaled moral and political arguments to encourage common people in the Colonies to fight for egalitarian government. It was published anonymously at the beginning of the American Revolution, and became an immediate sensation. Common Sense made public a persuasive and impassioned case for independence, which before the pamphlet had not yet been given serious intellectual consideration. He connected independence with common dissenting Protestant beliefs as a means to present a distinctly American political identity, structuring Common Sense as if it were a sermon.
The magnum opus of Smith, the book offers one of the world's first collected descriptions of what builds nations' wealth, and is a fundamental work in classical economics. By reflecting upon the economics at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the book touches upon such broad topics as the division of labour, productivity, and free markets. An important theme that persists throughout the work is the idea that the economic system is automatic, and, when left with substantial freedom, able to regulate itself. This is often referred to as the "invisible hand." The ability to self-regulate and to ensure maximum efficiency, however, is limited by externalities, monopolies, tax preferences, lobbying groups, and other "privileges" extended to certain members of the economy at the expense of others.
The Industrial Revolution was the transition to new manufacturing processes in the period from about 1760 to sometime between 1820 and 1840. This transition included going from hand production methods to machines, new chemical manufacturing and iron production processes, the increasing use of steam power, the development of machine tools and the rise of the factory system.
On December 7, five states–Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut–ratified the constitution. On February 1788, a compromise in which Massachusetts Maryland and South Carolina would ratify the document with the assurance that amendments would be immediately proposed. On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire ratified the document. In June, Virginia ratified the Constitution, followed by New York in July. On November 1789, North Carolina became the 12th state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. Rhode Island, which opposed federal control of currency and was critical of compromise on the issue of slavery, resisted ratifying the Constitution until the U.S. government threatened to sever commercial relations with the state. On May 29, 1790, Rhode Island voted by two votes to ratify the document, and the last of the original 13 colonies joined the United States.
During this period, French citizens razed and redesigned their country’s political landscape, uprooting centuries-old institutions such as absolute monarchy and the feudal system. Like the American Revolution before it, the French Revolution was influenced by Enlightenment ideals, particularly the concepts of popular sovereignty and inalienable rights. Although it failed to achieve all of its goals and at times degenerated into a chaotic bloodbath, the movement played a critical role in shaping modern nations by showing the world the power inherent in the will of the people. The revolution ended with the ascent of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Bernard-René Jordan de Launay, the military governor of the Bastille, requested reinforcements so on July 12, royal authorities transferred 250 barrels of gunpowder to the Bastille. On July 14, a great crowd armed with muskets, swords, and various makeshift weapons began to gather around the Bastille. Launay and his men were taken into custody, the Bastille’s gunpowder and cannons were seized, and the seven prisoners were freed. Upon arriving at the Hotel de Ville, where Launay was to be arrested and tried by a revolutionary council, he was instead pulled away by a mob and murdered. The capture of the Bastille symbolized the end of the ancien regime and provided the French revolutionary cause with an irresistible momentum.
Often referred to as the founding text or manifesto of Western feminism, this was a response to Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) by Edmund Burke. He believed that citizens should not rebel against their government in order to revolutionize its traditions. Wollstonecraft averred that rights cannot be based on tradition, only reason and rationality. Her book continued these themes and applied them to women. She dedicated the volume to Charles Maurice Talleyrand-Périgord, whose recently delivered speech on education to the National Assembly in France had suggested that women must only concern themselves with domestic affairs and stay out of the political arena.
The Revolutionary government decided to take harsh measures against those suspected of being enemies of the Revolution (nobles, priests, hoarders). In Paris, a wave of executions followed. In the provinces, representatives on mission and surveillance committees instituted local terrors. The Committee of Public Safety exercised virtual dictatorial control over the French government. They suspended a suspect’s right to public trial and to legal assistance and left the jury a choice only of acquittal or death. About 1,400 persons were executed.
One day after being convicted of conspiracy with foreign powers and sentenced to death by the French National Convention, King Louis XVI is executed by guillotine in the Place de la Revolution in Paris. Louis was convicted and condemned to death by a narrow majority. Nine months later, Marie Antoinette was convicted of treason by a tribunal, and on October 16 she followed her husband to the guillotine.
In June of 1812, Napoleon began his fatal Russian campaign, a landmark in the history of the destructive potential of warfare. Virtually all of continental Europe was under his control, and the invasion of Russia was an attempt to force Tsar Alexander I to submit once again to the terms of a treaty that Napoleon had imposed upon him four years earlier. Having gathered nearly half a million soldiers, from France as well as all of the vassal states of Europe, Napoleon entered Russia at the head of the largest army ever seen. The Russians, under Marshal Kutuzov, could not realistically hope to defeat him in a direct confrontation. Instead, they begin a defensive campaign of strategic retreat, devastating the land as they fell back and harassing the flanks of the French. As the summer wore on, Napoleon's massive supply lines were stretched ever thinner, and his force began to decline. By September, without having engaged in a single pitched battle, the French Army had been reduced by more than two thirds from fatigue, hunger, desertion, and raids by Russian forces.
Napoleon’s broken forces gave up and Napoleon offered to step down in favor of his son. When this offer was rejected, he abdicated and was sent to Elba. In March 1815, he escaped his island exile and returned to Paris, where he regained supporters and reclaimed his emperor title, Napoleon I, in a period known as the Hundred Days. However, in June 1815, he was defeated at the bloody Battle of Waterloo. Napoleon’s defeat ultimately signaled the end of France’s domination of Europe. He abdicated for a second time and was exiled to the remote island of Saint Helena, in the southern Atlantic Ocean, where he lived out the rest of his days.
The Congress of Vienna was a meeting of ambassadors of European states chaired by Austrian statesman Klemens von Metternich, and held in Vienna from November 1814 to June 1815, though the delegates had arrived and were already negotiating by late September 1814. The objective of the Congress was to provide a long-term peace plan for Europe by settling critical issues arising from the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. The goal was not simply to restore old boundaries but to resize the main powers so they could balance each other and remain at peace. The leaders were conservatives with little use for republicanism or revolution, both of which threatened to upset the status quo in Europe. France lost all its recent conquests while Prussia, Austria and Russia made major territorial gains. Prussia added smaller German states in the west, Swedish Pomerania and 60% of the Kingdom of Saxony; Austria gained Venice and much of northern Italy. Russia gained parts of Poland. The new Kingdom of the Netherlands had been created just months before, and included formerly Austrian territory that in 1830 became Belgium
Louis XVIII, known as "The Desired" (le Désiré), was a monarch of the House of Bourbon who ruled as King of France from 1814 to 1824, except for a period in 1815 known as the Hundred Days. He spent twenty-three years in exile, from 1791 to 1814, during the French Revolution and the First French Empire, and again in 1815, during the period of the Hundred Days, upon the return of Napoleon I from Elba. Louis XVIII ruled as king for slightly less than a decade. The Bourbon Restoration regime was a constitutional monarchy (unlike the ancien régime, which was absolutist). As a constitutional monarch, Louis XVIII's royal prerogative was reduced substantially by the Charter of 1814, France's new constitution. Louis had no children; therefore, upon his death, the crown passed to his brother, Charles, Count of Artois.
The Battle of Waterloo was fought on Sunday, 18 June 1815, near Waterloo in present-day Belgium, then part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. A French army under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated by two of the armies of the Seventh Coalition: a British-led Allied army under the command of the Duke of Wellington, and a Prussian army under the command of Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, Prince of Wahlstatt. The battle marked the end of the 20 year Napoleonic Wars.
The Carlsbad Decrees were a set of reactionary restrictions introduced in the states of the German Confederation by resolution of the Bundesversammlung on 20 September 1819 after a conference held in the spa town of Carlsbad, Bohemia. They banned nationalist fraternities ("Burschenschaften"), removed liberal university professors, and expanded the censorship of the press. They were aimed at quelling a growing sentiment for German unification and were passed during ongoing Hep-Hep riots which ended within a month after the resolution was passed.
Charles X was King of France from 16 September 1824 until 2 August 1830. For most of his life he was known as the Count of Artois (in French, comte d'Artois). An uncle of the uncrowned Louis XVII, and younger brother to reigning kings Louis XVI and Louis XVIII, he supported the latter in exile and eventually succeeded him. His rule of almost six years ended in the July Revolution of 1830, which resulted in his abdication and the election of Louis Philippe I as King of the French. Exiled once again, Charles died in 1836 in Gorizia, then part of the Austrian Empire. He was the last of the French rulers from the senior branch of the House of Bourbon.
Stephenson's Rocket was an early steam locomotive of 0-2-2 wheel arrangement. It was built for, and won, the Rainhill Trials held by the Liverpool & Manchester Railway in 1829 to choose the best design to power the railway. Rocket was designed by Robert Stephenson in 1829, and built at the Forth Street Works of his company in Newcastle upon Tyne. Though the Rocket was not the first steam locomotive, it was the first to bring together several innovations to produce the most advanced locomotive of its day. It is the most famous example of an evolving design of locomotives by Stephenson that became the template for most steam engines in the following 150 years.
The French conquest of Algeria took place between 1830 and 1847. In 1827, an argument between Hussein Dey, the ruler of the Ottoman Regency of Algiers, and the French consul escalated into a naval blockade following which France invaded and quickly seized Algiers in 1830, and rapidly took control of other coastal communities. Amid internal political strife in France, decisions were repeatedly taken to retain control over the territory, and additional military forces were brought in over the following years to quell resistance in the interior of the country. Algerian resistance forces were divided between forces under Ahmed Bey at Constantine, primarily in the east, and nationalist forces in Kabylie and the west. Treaties with the nationalists under `Abd al-Qādir enabled the French to first focus on the elimination of the remaining Ottoman threat, achieved with the 1837 capture of Constantine. Al-Qādir continued to give stiff resistance in the west. Finally driven into Morocco in 1842 by large-scale and heavy-handed French military action, he continued to wage a guerilla war until the Moroccan government, under French diplomatic pressure following its defeat in the First Franco-Moroccan War, drove him out of Morocco. He surrendered to French forces in 1847
Louis Philippe I was King of the French from 1830 to 1848 as the leader of the Orléanist party. As a member of the cadet branch of the Royal House of France and a cousin of King Louis XVI of France by reason of his descent from their common ancestors Louis XIII and Louis XIV, he had earlier found it necessary to flee France during the period of the French Revolution in order to avoid imprisonment and execution, a fate that actually befell his father Louis Philippe II, Duke of Orléans. He spent 21 years in exile after he left France in 1793. He was proclaimed king in 1830 after his cousin Charles X was forced to abdicate in the wake of the events of the July Revolution of that year. His government, known as the July Monarchy, was dominated by members of a wealthy French elite and numerous former Napoleonic officials. He followed conservative policies, especially under the influence of the French statesman François Guizot during the period 1840–48. He also promoted friendship with Britain and sponsored colonial expansion, notably the conquest of Algeria. His popularity faded as economic conditions in France deteriorated in 1847, and he was forced to abdicate after the outbreak of the French Revolution of 1848. He lived out his life in exile in Great Britain.
The Representation of the People Act 1832 (known informally as the 1832 Reform Act, Great Reform Act or First Reform Act to distinguish it from subsequent Reform Acts) was an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom (indexed as 2 & 3 Will. IV c. 45) that introduced wide-ranging changes to the electoral system of England and Wales. According to its preamble, the Act was designed to "take effectual Measures for correcting divers Abuses that have long prevailed in the Choice of Members to serve in the Commons House of Parliament". Before the reform, most members nominally represented boroughs. The number of electors in a borough varied widely, from a dozen or so up to 12,000. Frequently the selection of MPs was effectively controlled by one powerful patron: for example Charles Howard, 11th Duke of Norfolk controlled eleven boroughs. Criteria for qualification for the franchise varied greatly among boroughs, from the requirement to own land, to merely living in a house with a hearth sufficient to boil a pot.
The Great Famine or the Great Hunger was a period of mass starvation, disease, and emigration in Ireland between 1845 and 1849. It is sometimes referred to, mostly outside Ireland, as the Irish Potato Famine, because about two-fifths of the population was solely reliant on this cheap crop for a number of historical reasons. During the famine, about one million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland, causing the island's population to fall by between 20% and 25%.
The Broad Street cholera outbreak (or Golden Square outbreak) was a severe outbreak of cholera that occurred in 1854 near Broad Street (now Broadwick Street) in the Soho district of London, England. This outbreak, which killed 616 people, is best known for the physician John Snow's study of its causes and his hypothesis that contaminated water, not air, was the source of cholera. This discovery came to influence public health and the construction of improved sanitation facilities beginning in the mid-19th century. Later, the term "focus of infection" would be used to describe sites, such as the Broad Street pump, in which conditions are good for transmission of an infection. John Snow's endeavor to find the cause of the transmission of cholera caused him to unknowingly create a double-blind experiment.
The Great Exhibition in 1851 was the first international exhibition of manufactured products. It was organised by Henry Cole and Prince Albert, and held in a purpose-built Crystal Palace in Hyde Park. Many of the objects in the Exhibition were used as the first collection for the South Kensington Museum which opened in 1857 and later became the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Napoléon Bonaparte, (born April 20, 1808, Paris—died Jan. 9, 1873, Chislehurst, Kent, Eng.), nephew of Napoleon I, president of the Second Republic of France (1850–52), and then emperor of the French (1852–70). He gave his country two decades of prosperity under a stable, authoritarian government but finally led it to defeat in the Franco-German War (1870–71).
After speaking to Huxley and Hooker at Downe in April 1856, Darwin began writing a triple-volume book, tentatively called Natural Selection, which was designed to crush the opposition with a welter of facts. Darwin now had immense scientific and social authority, and his place in the parish was assured when he was sworn in as a justice of the peace in 1857. Darwin hastily began an “abstract” of Natural Selection, which grew into a more-accessible book, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.
The Suez Canal connects the Mediterranean and the Red seas. In 1854, Ferdinand de Lesseps, the former French consul to Cairo, secured an agreement with the Ottoman governor of Egypt to build a canal 100 miles across the Isthmus of Suez. An international team of engineers drew up a construction plan, and in 1856 the Suez Canal Company was formed and granted the right to operate the canal for 99 years after completion of the work. When it opened, the Suez Canal was only 25 feet deep, 72 feet wide at the bottom, and 200 to 300 feet wide at the surface. Consequently, fewer than 500 ships navigated it in its first full year of operation. Major improvements began in 1876, however, and the canal soon grew into the one of the world’s most heavily traveled shipping lanes. In 1875, Great Britain became the largest shareholder in the Suez Canal Company when it bought up the stock of the new Ottoman governor of Egypt. Seven years later, in 1882, Britain invaded Egypt, beginning a long occupation of the country. The Anglo-Egyptian treaty of 1936 made Egypt virtually independent, but Britain reserved rights for the protection of the canal.
The Franco-Prussian War was a conflict caused by Prussian ambitions to extend German unification and French fears of the shift in the European balance of power that would result if the Prussians succeeded. Some historians argue that the Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck deliberately provoked a French attack in order to draw the independent southern German states—Baden, Württemberg, Bavaria and Hesse-Darmstadt—into an alliance with the North German Confederation dominated by Prussia, while others contend that Bismarck did not plan anything and merely exploited the circumstances as they unfolded. The German states proclaimed their union as the German Empire under the Prussian king Wilhelm I, finally uniting Germany as a nation-state. The Treaty of Frankfurt of 10 May 1871 gave Germany most of Alsace and some parts of Lorraine, which became the Imperial territory of Alsace-Lorraine. The German conquest of France and the unification of Germany upset the European balance of power that had existed since the Congress of Vienna in 1815, and Otto von Bismarck maintained great authority in international affairs for two decades. French determination to regain Alsace-Lorraine and fear of another Franco-German war, along with British apprehension about the balance of power, became factors in the causes of World War I.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is shot to death along with his wife by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo, Bosnia. The archduke traveled to Sarajevo in June 1914 to inspect the imperial armed forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, former Ottoman territories in the turbulent Balkan region that were annexed by Austria-Hungary in 1908 to the indignation of Serbian nationalists, who believed they should become part of the newly independent and ambitious Serbian nation. The assassination of Franz-Ferdinand and Sophie set off a rapid chain of events: Austria-Hungary blamed the Serbian government for the attack and hoped to use the incident as justification for settling the question of Slav nationalism once and for all. As Russia supported Serbia, an Austro-Hungarian declaration of war was delayed until its leaders received assurances from German leader Kaiser Wilhelm that Germany would support their cause in the event of a Russian intervention–which would likely involve Russia’s ally, France, and possibly Britain as well. On July 28, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and the tenuous peace between Europe’s great powers collapsed. Within a week, Russia, Belgium, France, Great Britain and Serbia had lined up against Austria-Hungary and Germany, and World War I had begun.
World War I was a global war originating in Europe. More than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, were mobilised in one of the largest wars in history. Over nine million combatants and seven million civilians died as a result of the war (including the victims of a number of genocides), a casualty rate exacerbated by the belligerents' technological and industrial sophistication, and the tactical stalemate caused by gruelling trench warfare. It was one of the deadliest conflicts in history and precipitated major political change, including revolutions in many of the nations involved. The war drew in all the world's economic great powers, assembled in two opposing alliances: the Allies (based on the Triple Entente of the Russian Empire, the French Third Republic, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland) versus the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary. Although Italy was a member of the Triple Alliance alongside Germany and Austria-Hungary, it did not join the Central Powers, as Austria-Hungary had taken the offensive against the terms of the alliance. These alliances were reorganised and expanded as more nations entered the war: Italy, Japan and the United States joined the Allies, while the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria joined the Central Powers.
The American-built Panama Canal, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, is inaugurated with the passage of the U.S. vessel Ancon, a cargo and passenger ship. The United States had acquired an overseas empire at the end of the Spanish-American War and sought the ability to move warships and commerce quickly between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In 1903, the Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty was signed with Columbia, granting the U.S. use of the territory in exchange for financial compensation. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty, but the Colombian Senate, fearing a loss of sovereignty, refused. In response, President Theodore Roosevelt gave tacit approval to a Panamanian independence movement, which was engineered in large part by Philippe-Jean Bunau-Varilla and his canal company. On November 3, 1903, a faction of Panamanians issued a declaration of independence from Colombia. The U.S.-administered railroad removed its trains from the northern terminus of Colón, thus stranding Colombian troops sent to crush the rebellion. Other Colombian forces were discouraged from marching on Panama by the arrival of U.S. warship Nashville. On November 6, the United States recognized the Republic of Panama, and on November 18 the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty was signed with Panama, granting the U.S. exclusive and permanent possession of the Panama Canal Zone. In exchange, Panama received $10 million and an annuity of $250,000 beginning nine years later. Almost immediately, the treaty was condemned by many Panamanians as an infringement on their country’s new national sovereignty.
In early May 1915, several New York newspapers published a warning by the German embassy in Washington that Americans traveling on British or Allied ships in war zones did so at their own risk. The sinkings of merchant ships off the south coast of Ireland prompted the British Admiralty to warn the Lusitania to avoid the area or take simple evasive action, such as zigzagging to confuse U-boats plotting the vessel’s course. The captain of the Lusitania ignored these recommendations, and at 2:12 p.m. on May 7 the 32,000-ton ship was hit by an exploding torpedo on its starboard side. The torpedo blast was followed by a larger explosion, probably of the ship’s boilers, and the ship sunk in 20 minutes. It was revealed that the Lusitania was carrying about 173 tons of war munitions for Britain, which the Germans cited as further justification for the attack. The United States eventually sent three notes to Berlin protesting the action, and Germany apologized and pledged to end unrestricted submarine warfare. In November, however, a U-boat sunk an Italian liner without warning, killing 272 people, including 27 Americans. Public opinion in the United States began to turn irrevocably against Germany. On January 31, 1917, Germany announced that it would resume unrestricted warfare in war-zone waters. Three days later, the United States broke diplomatic relations with Germany, and just hours after that the American liner Housatonic was sunk by a German U-boat. In late March, Germany sunk four more U.S. merchant ships, and on April 2 President Wilson appeared before Congress and called for a declaration of war against Germany. With that, America entered World War I.
In Russia, the February Revolution (known as such because of Russia’s use of the Julian calendar) begins when riots and strikes over the scarcity of food erupt in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg). The immediate cause of the February Revolution was Russia’s disastrous involvement in World War I. Russian troops were shockingly ill-equipped for fighting, and Russian casualties were greater than those sustained by any nation in any previous war. Meanwhile, the Russian economy was hopelessly disrupted by the costly war effort, and moderates joined Russian radical elements in calling for the overthrow of the czar. On March 8, 1917, demonstrators clamoring for bread took to the streets of the Russian capital of Petrograd. Supported by 90,000 men and women on strike, the protesters clashed with police, refusing to leave the streets. On March 10, the strike spread among Petrograd’s workers, and irate mobs of workers destroyed police stations. Several factories elected deputies to the Petrograd Soviet (“council) of workers, following the model devised during the Revolution of 1905. On March 11, the troops of the Petrograd army garrison were called out to quell the uprising. In some encounters, regiments opened fire, killing demonstrators, but the protesters kept to the streets, and the troops began to waver. That day, Nicholas again dissolved the Dumas. When the frustrated Russian army at Petrograd unexpectedly switched their support to the demonstrators, the imperial government was forced to resign and a provisional government was established. Three days later, Nicholas formally abdicated his throne, effectively ending nearly four centuries of czarist rule in Russia.
Despite measures taken to improve U.S. military preparedness in the previous year, Wilson was unable to offer the Allies much immediate help in the form of troops; indeed, the army was only able to muster about 100,000 men at the time of American entrance into the war. To remedy this, Wilson immediately adopted a policy of conscription. By the time the war ended on November 11, 1918, more than 2 million American soldiers had served on the battlefields of Western Europe, and some 50,000 of them had lost their lives. Still, the most important effect of the U.S. entrance into the war was economic—by the beginning of April 1917, Britain alone was spending $75 million per week on U.S. arms and supplies, both for itself and for its allies, and had an overdraft of $358 million. The American entry into the war saved Great Britain, and by extension the rest of the Entente, from bankruptcy. The United States also crucially reinforced the strength of the Allied naval blockade of Germany, in effect from the end of 1914 and aimed at crushing Germany economically. American naval forces reached Britain on April 9, 1917, just three days after the declaration of war. By contrast, General John J. Pershing, the man appointed to command the U.S. Army in Europe, did not arrive until June 14; roughly a week later, the first 14,000 U.S. infantry troops landed in France to begin training for combat. Though the U.S. Army’s contributions began slowly, they would eventually mark a major turning point in the war effort and help the Allies to victory.
The Russian Revolution was a pair of revolutions in Russia in 1917 which dismantled the Tsarist autocracy and led to the rise of the Soviet Union. The Russian Empire collapsed with the abdication of Emperor Nicholas II and the old regime was replaced by a provisional government during the first revolution of February 1917 (March in the Gregorian calendar; the older Julian calendar was in use in Russia at the time). Alongside it arose grassroots community assemblies (called 'soviets') which contended for authority. In the second revolution that October, the Provisional Government was toppled and all power was given to the soviets.
World War I officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919. Negotiated among the Allied powers with little participation by Germany, its 15 parts and 440 articles reassigned German boundaries and assigned liability for reparations. After strict enforcement for five years, the French assented to the modification of important provisions. Germany agreed to pay reparations under the Dawes Plan and the Young Plan, but those plans were cancelled in 1932, and Hitler’s rise to power and subsequent actions rendered moot the remaining terms of the treaty.
Italian dictator Benito Mussolini rose to power in the wake of World War I as a leading proponent of Facism. Originally a revolutionary Socialist, he forged the paramilitary Fascist movement in 1919 and became prime minister in 1922. Mussolini’s military expenditures in Libya, Somalia, Ethiopia and Albania made Italy predominant in the Mediterranean region, though they exhausted his armed forces by the late 1930s. Mussolini allied himself with Hitler, relying on the German dictator to prop up his leadership during World War II, but he was killed shortly after the German surrender in Italy in 1945. Benito Mussolini’s self-confessed “thirst for military glory” battled his acute intelligence, psychological acumen, and political shrewdness for control over his military policies.
The Dawes Plan was an attempt to solve the World War I reparations problem that Germany had to pay. The occupation of the Ruhr industrial area by France and Belgium contributed to the hyperinflation crisis in Germany, partially because of its disabling effect on the German economy. The plan provided for an end to the Allied occupation, and a staggered payment plan for Germany's payment of war reparations. Because the Plan resolved a serious international crisis, Dawes shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1925 for his work. It was an interim measure and proved unworkable. The Young Plan was adopted in 1929 to replace it.
In 1912, Lenin, then in exile in Switzerland, appointed Joseph Stalin to serve on the first Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party. Three years later, in November 1917, the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia. The Soviet Union was founded in 1922, with Lenin as its first leader. During these years, Stalin had continued to move up the party ladder, and in 1922 he became secretary general of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, a role that enabled him to appoint his allies to government jobs and grow a base of political support. After Lenin died in 1924, Stalin eventually outmaneuvered his rivals and won the power struggle for control of the Communist Party. By the late 1920s, he had become dictator of the Soviet Union.
The Nazi Party emerged from the German nationalist, racist and populist Freikorps paramilitary culture, which fought against the communist uprisings in post-World War I Germany. The party was created as a means to draw workers away from communism and into völkisch nationalism. Initially, Nazi political strategy focused on anti-big business, anti-bourgeois and anti-capitalist rhetoric, although such aspects were later downplayed in order to gain the support of industrial entities and in the 1930s the party's focus shifted to anti-Semitic and anti-Marxist themes. Pseudo-scientific racism theories were central to Nazism. The Nazis propagated the idea of a "people's community" (Volksgemeinschaft). Their aim was to unite "racially desirable" Germans as national comrades, while excluding those deemed either to be political dissidents, physically or intellectually inferior, or of a foreign race (Fremdvölkische). The Nazis sought to improve the stock of the Germanic people through racial purity and eugenics, broad social welfare programs and a collective subordination of individual rights, which could be sacrificed for the good of the state and the "Aryan master race". To maintain the supposed purity and strength of the Aryan race, the Nazis sought to exterminate Jews, Romani and Poles along with the vast majority of other Slavs and the physically and mentally handicapped. They imposed exclusionary segregation on homosexuals, Africans, Jehovah's Witnesses and political opponents.
The Kellogg–Briand Pact is an international agreement in which signatory states promised not to use war to resolve "disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them". Parties failing to abide by this promise "should be denied of the benefits furnished by [the] treaty". It was signed by Germany, France, and the United States, and by most other nations soon after. Sponsored by France and the U.S., the Pact renounces the use of war and calls for the peaceful settlement of disputes. It is named after its authors, United States Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg and French foreign minister Aristide Briand. Many historians and political scientists see the pact as mostly irrelevant and ineffective.
The Great Depression lasted from 1929 to 1939, and was the worst economic downturn in the history of the industrialized world. It began after the stock market crash of October 1929, which sent Wall Street into a panic and wiped out millions of investors. Over the next several years, consumer spending and investment dropped, causing steep declines in industrial output and employment as failing companies laid off workers. By 1933, when the Great Depression reached its lowest point, some 15 million Americans were unemployed and nearly half the country’s banks had failed.
The Japanese Kwangtung Army attacked Chinese troops in Manchuria in an event commonly known as the Manchurian Incident. Essentially, this was an attempt by the Japanese Empire to gain control over the whole province, in order to eventually encompass all of East Asia. By 1931, Japan had invested vast sums of money into the economy of Manchuria, which was effectively controlled by the South Manchuria Railway Company. The Manchurian Incident marked a significant change in Japan's foreign policy, especially towards its colony of Korea. The invasion of Manchuria and the war mobilization efforts attempted to create a strong empire, which could eventual compete with these "world powers. The Japanese government set up a "puppet state of Manchukuo" after they took over Manchuria. Manchuria was also taken in an effort to curb the advance of Chinese nationalist forces, which were threatening Japanese interests on the Asian continent. Manchuria was also used for their vast natural resources and raw materials, which would help further the economic goals of Japan.
President Paul von Hindenburg names Adolf Hitler as chancellor of Germany. The year 1932 had seen Hitler’s meteoric rise to prominence in Germany, spurred largely by the German people’s frustration with dismal economic conditions and the still-festering wounds inflicted by defeat in the Great War and the harsh peace terms of the Versailles treaty. A charismatic speaker, Hitler channeled popular discontent with the post-war Weimar government into support for his fledgling Nazi party. In an election held in July 1932, the Nazis won 230 governmental seats; together with the Communists, the next largest party, they made up over half of the Reichstag. Hitler’s emergence as chancellor marked a crucial turning point for Germany and, ultimately, for the world. His plan, embraced by much of the German population, was to do away with politics and make Germany a powerful, unified one-party state. He began immediately, ordering a rapid expansion of the state police, the Gestapo, and putting Hermann Goering in charge of a new security force, composed entirely of Nazis and dedicated to stamping out whatever opposition to his party might arise. From that moment on, Nazi Germany was off and running, and there was little Hindenburg or von Papen—or anyone—could do to stop it.
Based on Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points and rooted in the ideology of liberal internationalism, the League was supposed to go further than the Concert of Europe had in the 19th century. Its aim was to give all countries a voice, to promote self-determination and to unite the world. But the League was doomed from the outset, as the isolationist US Senate refused to ratify it. It had no military power, and it did not include the powerful Russia, which was by then under Communist control and, was not allowed to join. In 1926 "peace-loving” Germany joined. The country had been kept out initially, under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. But it would only be a member for seven years. Then, in January 1933 Adolf Hitler became German Chancellor. The League was at the time fixated on reaching an international disarmament agreement, but efforts to limit army sizes prompted the departure of Japan in March 1933 and then Germany a few months later.
The Second Italo-Ethiopian War was a colonial war between the armed forces of the Kingdom of Italy and those of the Ethiopian Empire (also known as Abyssinia). Ethiopia was defeated, annexed and subjected to military occupation. The Ethiopian Empire became a part of the Italian colony of Italian East Africa. Fighting continued until the Italian defeat in East Africa in 1941, during the East African Campaign of the Second World War. Italy and Ethiopia were members of the League of Nations yet the League was unable to control Italy or to protect Ethiopia when Italy violated Article X of the Covenant of the League of Nations. The Abyssinia Crisis of 1935 is often seen as a clear demonstration of the ineffectiveness of the league. The Italian victory coincided with the zenith of the popularity of dictator Benito Mussolini and the Fascist regime at home and abroad. Ethiopia was consolidated with Eritrea and Italian Somaliland into Africa Orientale Italiana (Italian East Africa).
At the conclusion of a European peace conference held in Switzerland, the Locarno Pact was signed, reaffirming the national boundaries decided by the Treaty of Versailles and approving the German entry into the League of Nations. The so-called “spirit of Locarno” symbolized hopes for an era of European peace and goodwill, and by 1930 German Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann had negotiated the removal of the last Allied troops in the demilitarized Rhineland. In 1935, Hitler unilaterally canceled the military clauses of the treaty and in March 1936 denounced the Locarno Pact and began remilitarizing of the Rhineland.
The Republicans, who were loyal to the democratic, left-leaning and relatively urban Second Spanish Republic, in an alliance of convenience with the Anarchists, fought against the Nationalists, a Falangist, Carlist, Catholic, and largely aristocratic conservative group led by General Francisco Franco. The war has often been portrayed as a struggle between democracy and fascism, particularly due to the political climate and timing surrounding it, but it can more accurately be described as a struggle between leftist revolution and rightist counter-revolution similar to the Finnish Civil War and the wars fought over the formation of the Hungarian and Slovak Soviet republics. Ultimately, the Nationalists won, and Franco, who already ruled over Nationalist Spain, ruled over all of Spain for the next 36 years, from April 1939 until his death in November 1975.
The Second Sino-Japanese War was a military conflict that began with the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in 1937 in which Japanese military demanded permission to enter the Chinese city of Wanping to search for a missing soldier. The Chinese refused. Later in the night, a unit of Japanese infantry attempted to breach Wanping's walled defences and were repulsed. An ultimatum by the Japanese was issued before they would declare war. The Chinese still refused. The conflict then escalated further into a full-scale war. China fought Japan, with aid from the Soviet Union and the United States. It accounted for the majority of civilian and military casualties in the Pacific War, with between 10 and 25 million Chinese civilians and over 4 million Chinese and Japanese military personnel dying from war-related violence, famine, and other causes. The war was the result of a decades-long Japanese imperialist policy to expand its influence politically and militarily in order to secure access to raw material reserves, food, and labor.
Austrian Nazis conspired for the second time in four years to seize the Austrian government by force and unite their nation with Nazi Germany. Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg, learning of the conspiracy, met with Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in the hopes of reasserting his country’s independence but was instead bullied into naming several top Austrian Nazis to his cabinet. On March 9, Schuschnigg called a national vote to resolve the question of Anschluss, or “annexation,” once and for all. Before the plebiscite could take place, however, Schuschnigg gave in to pressure from Hitler and resigned on March 11. In his resignation address, under coercion from the Nazis, he pleaded with Austrian forces not to resist a German “advance” into the country. The next day, March 12, Hitler accompanied German troops into Austria, where enthusiastic crowds met them. Hitler appointed a new Nazi government, and on March 13 the Anschluss was proclaimed.
No Czech representative was invited to the conference. Chamberlain had asked for the Czech ambassador to Berlin to come to Munich as an adviser, but he was not allowed in the same room as Hitler. On the night of September 28th a Czech government statement agreed to cede Czech territory where 50 per cent or more of the population were German, but protested against the demand for a plebiscite in areas without a German majority. At Munich Hitler gained what he wanted – the domination of Central Europe – and German troops marched into the Sudetenland on the night of October 1st. The day before, the Czech government had accepted the Munich pact. As part of the Munich agreement all predominantly German territory in Czechoslovakia was to be handed over by October 10th. Poland and Hungary occupied other parts of the country and after a few months Czechoslovakia ceased to exist and what was left of Slovakia became a German puppet state.
German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop met with Stalin and Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov, who had been working with von Ribbentrop to negotiate an agreement. Ribbentrop carried a proposal from Hitler that both countries commit to a nonaggression pact that would last 100 years. Stalin replied that 10 years would be sufficient. The proposal also stipulated that neither country would aid any third party that attacked either signatory. Finally, the proposal contained a secret protocol specifying the spheres of influence in Eastern Europe both parties would accept after Hitler conquered Poland. The Soviet Union would acquire the eastern half of Poland, along with Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. It neutralized the French-Soviet treaty, which would reassure Hitler’s generals, and cleared the way for Germany’s attack on Poland. Hitler scrapped his pact with Stalin and sent some 3 million Nazi soldiers pouring into the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941.
German forces bombard Poland on land and from the air, as Adolf Hitler seeks to regain lost territory and ultimately rule Poland. The German invasion of Poland was a primer on how Hitler intended to wage war–what would become the “blitzkrieg” strategy. This was characterized by extensive bombing early on to destroy the enemy’s air capacity, railroads, communication lines, and munitions dumps, followed by a massive land invasion with overwhelming numbers of troops, tanks, and artillery. Once the German forces had plowed their way through, devastating a swath of territory, infantry moved in, picking off any remaining resistance.
In response to Hitler’s invasion of Poland, Britain and France, both allies of the overrun nation declare war on Germany. For Britain’s response, it was initially no more than the dropping of anti-Nazi propaganda leaflets—13 tons of them—over Germany. They would begin bombing German ships on September 4, suffering significant losses. They were also working under orders not to harm German civilians. The German military, of course, had no such restrictions. France would begin an offensive against Germany’s western border two weeks later. Their effort was weakened by a narrow 90-mile window leading to the German front, enclosed by the borders of Luxembourg and Belgium—both neutral countries. The Germans mined the passage, stalling the French offensive.
The Yalta Conference was a meeting of British prime minister Winston Churchill, Soviet premier Joseph Stalin, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt early in February 1945 as World War II was winding down. The leaders agreed to require Germany’s unconditional surrender and to set up in the conquered nation four zones of occupation to be run by their three countries and France. They scheduled another meeting for April in San Francisco to create the United Nations. Stalin also agreed to permit free elections in Eastern Europe and to enter the Asian war against Japan. In turn, he was promised the return of lands lost to Japan in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. At the time, most of these agreements were kept secret.
Thirty minutes after the fall of "Festung Breslau" (Fortress Breslau), General Alfred Jodl arrived in Reims and, following Dönitz's instructions, offered to surrender all forces fighting the Western Allies. This was exactly the same negotiating position that von Friedeburg had initially made to Montgomery, and like Montgomery the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, threatened to break off all negotiations unless the Germans agreed to a complete unconditional surrender to all the Allies on all fronts. Eisenhower explicitly told Jodl that he would order western lines closed to German soldiers, thus forcing them to surrender to the Soviets. Jodl sent a signal to Dönitz, who was in Flensburg, informing him of Eisenhower's declaration. Shortly after midnight, Dönitz, accepting the inevitable, sent a signal to Jodl authorizing the complete and total surrender of all German forces. News of the imminent surrender broke in the West on 8 May, and celebrations erupted throughout Europe and parts of the British Empire. In the US, Americans awoke to the news and declared 8 May V-E Day. As the Soviet Union was to the east of Germany it was 9 May Moscow Time when the German military surrender became effective, which is why Russia and many other European countries east of Germany commemorate Victory Day on 9 May.
Held near Berlin, the Potsdam Conference (July 17-August 2, 1945) was the last of the World War II meetings held by the “Big Three” heads of state. Featuring American President Harry S. Truman, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (and his successor, Clement Attlee) and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, the talks established a Council of Foreign Ministers and a central Allied Control Council for administration of Germany. The leaders arrived at various agreements on the German economy, punishment for war criminals, land boundaries and reparations. Although talks primarily centered on postwar Europe, the Big Three also issued a declaration demanding “unconditional surrender” from Japan.
Held for the purpose of bringing Nazi war criminals to justice, the Nuremberg trials were a series of 13 trials carried out in Nuremberg, Germany, between 1945 and 1949. The defendants, who included Nazi Party officials and high-ranking military officers along with German industrialists, lawyers and doctors, were indicted on such charges as crimes against peace and crimes against humanity. Nazi leader Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) committed suicide and was never brought to trial. Although the legal justifications for the trials and their procedural innovations were controversial at the time, the Nuremberg trials are now regarded as a milestone toward the establishment of a permanent international court, and an important precedent for dealing with later instances of genocide and other crimes against humanity.
The Marshall Plan (officially the European Recovery Program, ERP) was an American initiative to aid Western Europe, in which the United States gave over $13 billion in economic assistance to help rebuild Western European economies after the end of World War II. The plan was in operation for four years beginning on April 3, 1948. The goals of the United States were to rebuild war-torn regions, remove trade barriers, modernize industry, improve European prosperity, and prevent the spread of Communism. The Marshall Plan required a lessening of interstate barriers, a dropping of many regulations, and encouraged an increase in productivity, trade union membership, as well as the adoption of modern business procedures.
In Tel Aviv, Jewish Agency Chairman David Ben-Gurion proclaims the State of Israel, establishing the first Jewish state in 2,000 years. In the distance, the rumble of guns could be heard from fighting that broke out between Jews and Arabs immediately following the British army withdrawal earlier that day. Egypt launched an air assault against Israel that evening. Despite a blackout in Tel Aviv–and the expected Arab invasion–Jews joyously celebrated the birth of their new nation, especially after word was received that the United States had recognized the Jewish state. At midnight, the State of Israel officially came into being upon termination of the British mandate in Palestine.
In response to the Berlin Blockade, the Western Allies organized the Berlin airlift to carry supplies to the people of West Berlin, a difficult feat given the size of the city's population. Aircrews from the United States Air Force, the British Royal Air Force, the French Air Force, the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force, the Royal New Zealand Air Force, and the South African Air Force. 338 flew over 200,000 flights in one year, providing to the West Berliners up to 8,893 tons of necessities each day, such as fuel and food. The Soviets did not disrupt the airlift for fear this might lead to open conflict.
In 1949, the prospect of further Communist expansion prompted the United States and 11 other Western nations to form the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The Soviet Union and its affiliated Communist nations in Eastern Europe founded a rival alliance, the Warsaw Pact, in 1955. The alignment of nearly every European nation into one of the two opposing camps formalized the political division of the European continent that had taken place since World War II (1939-45). This alignment provided the framework for the military standoff that continued throughout the Cold War (1945-91).
The Korean War began when some 75,000 soldiers from the North Korean People’s Army poured across the 38th parallel, the boundary between the Soviet-backed Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the north and the pro-Western Republic of Korea to the south. This invasion was the first military action of the Cold War. By July, American troops had entered the war on South Korea’s behalf. As far as American officials were concerned, it was a war against the forces of international communism itself. After some early back-and-forth across the 38th parallel, the fighting stalled and casualties mounted with nothing to show for them. Meanwhile, American officials worked anxiously to fashion some sort of armistice with the North Koreans. The alternative, they feared, would be a wider war with Russia and China–or even, as some warned, World War III. Finally, in July 1953, the Korean War came to an end. In all, some 5 million soldiers and civilians lost their lives during the war. The Korean peninsula is still divided today.
The Soviet Union and seven of its European satellites sign a treaty establishing the Warsaw Pact, a mutual defense organization that put the Soviets in command of the armed forces of the member states. The Warsaw Pact included the Soviet Union, Albania, Poland, Romania, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria as members. The treaty called on the member states to come to the defense of any member attacked by an outside force and it set up a unified military command under Marshal Ivan S. Konev of the Soviet Union. The introduction to the treaty establishing the Warsaw Pact indicated the reason for its existence. This revolved around “Western Germany, which is being remilitarized, and her inclusion in the North Atlantic bloc, which increases the danger of a new war and creates a threat to the national security of peace-loving states.”
Two days after sealing off free passage between East and West Berlin with barbed wire, East German authorities begin building a wall–the Berlin Wall–to permanently close off access to the West. For the next 28 years, the heavily fortified Berlin Wall stood as the most tangible symbol of the Cold War–a literal “iron curtain” dividing Europe.
Leaders of the U.S. and the Soviet Union were engaged in a tense political and military standoff over the installation of nuclear-armed Soviet missiles on Cuba, just 90 miles from U.S. shores. In a TV address on October 22, 1962, President John Kennedy (1917-63) notified Americans about the presence of the missiles, explained his decision to enact a naval blockade around Cuba and made it clear the U.S. was prepared to use military force if necessary to neutralize this perceived threat to national security. Following this news, many people feared the world was on the brink of nuclear war. However, disaster was avoided when the U.S. agreed to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s (1894-1971) offer to remove the Cuban missiles in exchange for the U.S. promising not to invade Cuba. Kennedy also secretly agreed to remove U.S. missiles from Turkey.
During the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, Arab members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) imposed an embargo against the United States in retaliation for the U.S. decision to re-supply the Israeli military and to gain leverage in the post-war peace negotiations. Arab OPEC members also extended the embargo to other countries that supported Israel including the Netherlands, Portugal, and South Africa. The embargo both banned petroleum exports to the targeted nations and introduced cuts in oil production. Several years of negotiations between oil-producing nations and oil companies had already destabilized a decades-old pricing system, which exacerbated the embargo’s effects.
The Helsinki Accords was the final act of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe where thirty-five states, including the US, Canada, and all European states except Albania and Andorra, signed the declaration in an attempt to improve relations between the Communist bloc and the West. The Helsinki Accords, however, were not binding as they did not have treaty status. The agreement recognized the inviolability of the post-World War II frontiers in Europe and pledged the 35 signatory nations to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms and to cooperate in economic, scientific, humanitarian, and other areas.
The Revolutions of 1989 formed part of a revolutionary wave in the late 1980s and early 1990s that resulted in the end of communist rule in Central and Eastern Europe and beyond. The revolution began in Poland in 1989 and continued in Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Romania. The Soviet Union dissolved in December 1991, resulting in 11 new countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan) ,while the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) regained their independence. The rest of the Soviet Union became the Russian Federation in December 1991. Albania and Yugoslavia abandoned Communism between 1990 and 1992. Communism was abandoned in countries such as Cambodia (1991), Ethiopia (1990), Mongolia (which in 1990 democratically re-elected a Communist government that ran the country until 1996) and South Yemen (1990).